Contentiousness and evil are expressed, not just with weapons, but even more often with words, aren’t they? Bullying – in person and especially online is at epidemic proportions. Conversation in the civil arena seems only marginally better. We excuse the worst kind of behavior – both in words and in action – with the excuse, “Well, this other group was doing it long before I started.” Sometimes it sounds as though our public conversation is coming from the playground.  

If my children were here, they could tell you of the lack of success that they had whenever they came to me, seeking to justify their behavior with the explanation that someone else had first done something equally bad. You can imagine my reply. It was typically some form of, “Well, that may be true, but in this family we……yada, yada, yada.” You know how it goes.

Today politicians on all sides routinely justify their verbal attacks, lying, legislative inertia, incompetence, and outright obstructionism by the misbehavior of opposing groups. Wow, if we don’t let our five-year old children get away with this argument, why do we let our politicians?

There is another way.

Paul suggests that we live in a world where we constantly have choices. Things come to us – things good and bad come to us as part of a cycle, a system, a course of action. When it becomes our turn, when we are up, are we simply going to join in? Are we going to enter into the cycle as a participant? Are we going to continue the course of events – maybe even accelerate them so that the brokenness continues?

Or, are we going to say no? Are we going to say, to the extent that we are able, that on this day and in this event, this cycle of behavior – at the very least – will not include me if not will actually stop with me?  Will the cycle of evil, the cycle of misbehavior stop with me or will it be encouraged or even accelerated by me?

No longer is mutually assured destruction a permissible course of behavioral action. No eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. No. Jesus radically elevates our opportunity. Not only are we not to meet an adversary with a negative – albeit defensive response, no. Now we are to act in our adversary’s best interest. That doesn’t mean caving. That doesn’t mean being a willing floor mat to be walked on. But it does mean acting and desiring God’s best for everyone we encounter, even those that oppose us.

It means being fair to those who may not be fair. It means being honest, even with those who are willing to be dishonest. It means rejecting the cynical notion that the ends justify the means. It means being willing to sacrifice for those who oppose you for the greater good of all.

We are called to break the cycles of evil as they come by us. Are you willing? How do yu see that happening?

Thoughts From Sunday

So what does it men to be salt and light today?

First, I think we have to be willing to make a difference. That means standing up, being counted, taking risks, and not settling for the lowest common cultural denominator. It means extending ourselves, being other-oriented.

Being salt and light can be simple and direct.

It means being willing to look into the eyes of everyone you meet. So many times we walk past the down and out and it is as though we don’t even acknowledge that they are there. We don’t want to make eye contact. Perhaps that eye contact might suggest to us some kind of connection or responsibility that we don’t want.

It means offering kind words instead of indifference and even silence. I have a friend who has worked in the service industry most of his life. “Jim,” he would say to me, “it is amazing to me how people think they can talk to us. Rude. Brusque. Dismissive. It’s like we are not even human.”

To be salt and light is to be generous with your time, your resources, your compassion as you recognize the image and likeness of God in the welfare mother, the addict, the homeless, the alternative kid.

To be salt and light means that you are unwilling to sink to what has become permissible in our public conversations – particularly on social media. It shouldn’t matter what others are willing to do. It shouldn’t matter what permission anonymity gives us on social media. It shouldn’t matter to what level other are willing to sink. We are people of God. We are salt and light. We should always talk or communicate as though Jesus is in the room or reading our post.  

The prophet Isaiah speaks of letting loose the bonds of injustice and letting the oppressed go free. So maybe being salt and light looks like politics that is less about power and control and more about equality, diversity, and the inherent dignity of every human being.

What does being salt and light look like for you?

A Keeper

The internet is filled with all kinds of wisdom – some good, some not so good. At a recent Session meeting, one of our elders shared the following devotional.

I grew up in the 50s and 60s with practical parents. A mother – God love her – who washed aluminum foil after she cooked it and then reused it. She was the original recycle queen, before they had a name for it. My dad was a father who was happier getting old shoes fixed than buying new ones.

Their marriage was good, their dreams focused. Their best friends lived barely a wave away.

I can see them now. Dad in trousers, tee shirt, and a hat and Mom in a house dress – lawnmower in one hand and a dish-towel in the other. It was the time for fixing things. A curtain rod, the kitchen radio, screen door, the oven door, the hem in a dress. These were things we keep.

It was a way of life and sometimes it made me crazy. All the re-fixing, eating, renewing. I wanted just once to be wasteful. Waste meant affluence. Throwing things away meant you knew there would always be more.

But then my mother died, and on that clear summer’s night – in the warmth of the hospital room – I was struck with the pain of learning that sometimes there isn’t more.

Sometimes what we care about most gets all used up and goes away…never to return. So, while we have it, it’s best we love it, and care for it, and fix it when it’s broken, and heal it when it is sick.

This is true for marriage…and old cars…and children with bad report cards…and dogs with bad hips…and aging parents…and grandparents. We keep them because they are worth it, because we are worth it. Some things we keep, like a best friend that moved away or a classmate we grew up with.

There are just some things that make life important – like people we know who are special. And so we keep them close. Good friends are like stars…you don’t always see them, but you know they are always there.

The devotion goes on with some challenges for how we live our lives. Those will be fodder for future posts. But for now, Scott’s devotional reminded me of the need to give thanks, to express love, and cherish the important relationships in my life.

I am thankful for my wife, my children, my grandchildren, siblings, my extended family. I am thankful for friends who have stuck by me through thick and in thin. I am thankful for the members of Laguna Niguel Presbyterian Church who love me, forgive me, extend grace to me and are patient with me. You are people who gently mold, shape, and heal me when I am sick. I am thankful beyond words.

God’s Business

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome enter the tomb, come into the grieving room and it is there that they encounter a young man, dressed in white, who tells them two important things. First, don’t be afraid. And second, the Jesus that you seek is no longer contained by this tomb, is no longer contained by death. He has risen. Look! See for yourself! Jesus is not here. The women have received from this messenger, the news of Christ’s resurrection! Life is suddenly anything but usual!

No longer is Jesus a memory. Now He is a presence – a presence that will meet them in Galilee. A presence that will meet us wherever Jesus can find us. Meet us, and embrace us!

No longer is Jesus an historical figure destined to fade into the annals of the history books – known only when we decide to read. Now Jesus has regained His eternal nature and can be encountered again and again by the faithful!

But perhaps most importantly, the messenger tells the women explicitly to tell the disciples AND PETER that Jesus is alive. The tomb could not hold him. Sin could not keep him. Death was defeated. Guilt has been conquered by grace and Peter – Peter, the one who had denied Jesus three times – Peter was not dead in his betrayal.

This is hardly business as usual. Jesus could have said anything. Jesus could have given any set of instructions. But Jesus undoubtedly knew of Peter’s agony over his betrayal of Jesus. Jesus wants to make sure that Peter knows that betrayal is not the final word – resurrection is!

It’s Sunday morning. It is really early. We might be tired from the events of Friday night and Saturday. We may be feeling numb from past disappointments and our own betrayals. But friends, it is Easter! The tomb is empty. We may deserve condemnation but instead we are met with grace and compassion. We may deserve harsh words and endless acts of contrition trying to earn our way back into God’s good graces. THAT would be business as usual. 

But thankfully, God’s business is love, not anger. God’s business is grace, not judgment. God’s business is restoration not a pound of flesh. Love, grace, restoration – THAT is business as usual for God!

“Circling The Drain”

A close friend in North Carolina used to talk about those who were coming to the close of their earthly lives as “circling the drain.” The comment was not meant to be pejorative, demeaning, or dismissive. In fact, I never heard him use the phrase in reference to anyone for whom he didn’t have deep love and respect. It was a phrase that was meant to capture the inevitability of one’s passing while still describing some level of life, passion, and engagement.

At the risk of sounding irreverent, Jesus is “circling the drain.” Events that had been known since the beginning of time would soon be coming to fruition. The end – Christ’s decisive victory over sin and death – will soon be set into motion. Cities will be entered. Final teachings will be given. Betrayal – arrests – brutal beatings – and an even more horrific death are imminent.

The pattern is known and set. Nothing about the story will change. It is not as though suddenly the crowd will choose Jesus instead of Barabbas. I wonder if the story – in all of its familiarity – has lost some of its ability to fill us with awe and wonder? I wonder – since we know that Friday is not the final word – if we will be able to go through the hours of Good Friday with little apprehension, with little dread, with an overly familiar and comfortable awareness of Christ’s time on the Cross? I wonder, if we will wonder at all.

There is an inevitability about circling the drain. But that doesn’t mean – in the midst of that inevitability – that life cannot be filled with wonder, majesty, glory, amazement, horror, and overwhelming thankfulness. How will your Holy Week be different this year? What new services or experiences will you enter into to make Holy Week different and wondrously new?